Grand’s backcountry hut system to get new addition

Concept renderings for the Schowalter Hut, which will be located in the Hamilton Creek drainage area of Tabernash.
Courtesy Grand Huts Association

There are plenty of ways to get out and explore Grand County’s backcountry, but few recreation options offer the exclusive, immersive experience of backcountry huts, which is one of the reasons why the Grand Huts Association is planning to expand the hut experience for locals and tourists alike.

Currently, Grand Huts, a local backcountry hut nonprofit, is in the process of building a new hut called the Schowalter Hut, a sustainable backcountry cabin that guests can rent out overnight. It will sit in the Hamilton Creek drainage area in Tabernash with views of the Continental Divide and year-round access.

“It’s a forested parcel with a nice meadow out front, kind of like the High Lonesome (Hut),” said Andy Miller, project director for Grand Huts Association. “It’s a model that’s been used extensively in Europe and it’s getting more popular here.”

Similar to the Broome Hut on Berthoud Pass, the Schowalter Hut will be around the same size and sleep 16 people in its main cabin. However unlike the Broome Hut, the Schowalter Hut will have running water and it will include a caretakers quarter that sleeps two instead of a day use room.

Miller explained that the location of the Schowalter Hut will help diversify opportunities for guests since the terrain is different than the Broome Hut, which sits at timberline and offers moderate to extreme terrain.

“That’s another thing I’m excited about at the Schowalter Hut, is we’re hopefully going to get more people skiing in the woods,” he said. “I think it will be a good introductory hut for people who are just getting into backcountry skiing.”

The land where the Schowalter Hut will ultimately sit is a 40-acre parcel that was donated to Grand Huts for the project at about a 10,000-foot elevation. However, the organization is working on getting appraisals for land and conservation easements for an adjacent 66-acre parcel that provides access to the hut.

Grand Huts applied for $18,000 from the county’s Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Grant to complete the appraisals so construction can begin. Although, due to some language in the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails guidelines, their application has been extended until May 23.

“It’s a fairly complex project just because it involves private landowners, public access through private land, federal lands, the conservation easement and so because of that it has lots of steps,” said Meara McQuain, board member of Grand Huts.

Overall, the total cost of the project is closer to $45,000, which will come from grants and fundraising, McQuain said.

She feels confident the hut will be an important public amenity that will draw people to Grand County, noting that the Broome Hut has the highest occupancy in the state.

“It’s one of those if you build it, they will come (situations),” McQuain said. “It’s utilized a lot by visitors, but also residents use it quite a bit.”

Miller added that county organizations will be able to take advantage of the new hut, highlighting educational programs that have been held at Broome Hut, including avalanche awareness classes and camps for at-risk youth.

Huts are also a great way to introduce newcomers to the backcountry and be immersed in the environment without the same impacts as camping, Miller said.

“When you get an area that’s being used very heavily, it’s better to put people in a building and put them on a toilet and get the impacts localized and dealt with,” he said. “It’s also a really good way to introduce people to the backcountry who maybe aren’t set up to camp or don’t really want to camp, they’ve got a place to be indoors and warm and socialize with friends.”

The goal is to start construction on the Schowalter Hut next summer, but McQuain didn’t rule out that it could get going as early as this fall.

Ultimately, Grand Huts hopes that the Schowalter Hut will be one of nine huts that stretch from Berthoud Pass to Grand Lake. The organization continues to have conversations about updating two existing cabins: the First Creek Cabin, on Berthoud Pass, and the Twin Creek Cabin, near Lake Granby.

“We are currently working with the Forest Service on (…) acquiring those and getting them open to the public,” McQuain said.

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